The incoherency of the anti-atheists

I have a good time debating theists on the subject of communism, the Soviet Union, and atheism.  As regular visitors know, it’s a subject I have a formal background in, and have written about on this blog.  Anti-atheists try to pin the atrocities committed by communist regimes on atheism, but I’ve demonstrated why that view is not in evidence, and they search in vain for an expert to support it.  Their argument deflated, these anti-atheists try to resuscitate it with more bad argument and wholly ignorant and risible assertions.  Case in point: Michael Eden of the “Start Thinking Right” blog.

Michael’s outlook is garden-variety fundamentalist Christian. With a background in divinity and philosophical theology, he’s better educated than the average Christian, but he exhibits the same immunity from evidence and reasoned thinking all too many of his fellow theists share.  His hostility toward evolutionary theory exemplifies this tendency. 

In a recent discussion on communism and atheism, Michael repeated the same canards we’ve come to expect from his type.  When challenged to provide to cite scholars who support his view, Michael noted some Soviet dissidents like Alexander Solzhenitsyn, a Romanian evangelical Christian, and Rudolph Rummel.  I was particularly grateful for the latter reference, with whom I’m already acquainted.  Rummel is an actual scholar of totalitarianism, with a Ph.D. in Political Science (Northwestern University, 1963), and who writes on the deadly nexus of government and excessive power.  Michael, who erroneously conflates communism with atheism, is unfortunately not as familiar with Rummel as I, for here is what he had to say specifically on the subject on atheism’s role in the last century’s murderous regimes:

Q: Is atheism the principal factor in democide, such as that committed by the “Big Three,” Stalin, Mao, and Hitler?

A: No. I find that religion or its lack – atheism – have hardly anything to do in general with wide-scale democide. The most important factor is totalitarian power. Whether a church, atheists, or agnostics have that power is incidental – it is having the power that is a condition of democide. Incidentally, some ideologies, such as communism, function psychologically and sociologically as though a religion. The only distinction is whether the subject is a god or a man, such as Marx, Lenin, Hirohito, Hitler, Mohammed, Kim Ill sung, Mao, etc.

For further reinforcement, I pointed out that Hannah Arendt, one of the most widely recognized experts on totalitarianism, mentions not a word about atheism in her seminole work, The Origins of Totalitarianism.

Decisively refuted in this way, reasonable individuals usually react by modifying their views, or at least become a tad skeptical.  But most theists, in my experience, are not reasonable individuals.  Michael’s response to the scholarly citations is instructive of their mindset.  He wrote,

The fact that someone like Robert is able to find atheists and communists (or post-Marxist, or whatever these fools are calling themselves these days) – whether “scholars” or not – to say that atheism and communism are actually good things not responsible for anything awful really amounts to a gigantic mountain of crap.

I see.  When those you cite are shown to disagree with you, suddenly they become “fools” and “atheists/communists” themselves (Arendt was a secular Jew and Michael continues to cite Rummel later!).  Laughable!  And notice the strawman thrown in for good measure.  The opportunity to demonstrate the mental quackery of theists like Michael makes my time well spent.

Michael is reduced to extensively citing Solzhenitsyn, who – surprise! – was another anti-atheist Christian.  Solzhenitsyn was also anti-west, anti-freedom, anti-democracy, and anti-semitic.  He opposed letting non-Orthodox Christians like Michael into Russia.  Nonetheless, Michael believes, “Solzhenitsyn is [sic] a greater scholar than you and all the moral idiots you cite as ‘experts’ times 1000.” (emphasis in the original)

Solzhenitsyn’s thesis, with which Michael wholeheartedly agrees, is

God is the only legitimate source of our human rights and freedoms, and the removal of God will ultimately remove the rights and freedoms, resulting in the Gulags.

Funny.  Countries like Japan, whose population currently consists of just 1% of Christians, appears to lack any gulags, last I checked.  Michael says that’s because our superior Judeo-Christian values were imposed on Japan after WWII.  Constitutional democracy is a Judeo-Christian value now?  Is sliced bread too?

The fact of the matter is, history simply doesn’t bear Solzhenitsyn out.  Europe’s ever increasing political and social secularization has not resulted in a repeat of the communist experience, while its deeply Christian past resulted in the very tragedies a belief in God is supposed to make impossible.  Michael further writes,

 Atheism has a 100% track record. In every single society in which a government was officially atheist – EVERY SINGLE ONE – unimaginable atrocity, totalitarian nightmare, and the crushing of human dignity followed.

Governments can believe in God or not?  Nonsense.  Perhaps Michael refers instead to governments that proclaim the promotion of atheism as a state policy.  What he neglects to mention is that these governments proclaim other policies as well.  Policies like…nationalization, class warfare, suppression of “enemies of the state,” forced collectivization.  Could they, possibly, have anything to do with social violence and atrocity?  It’s doubtful Michael is even aware of such things. The historical myopia of the anti-atheists is breathtaking to behold at times. 

What the anti-atheists fail to show is how atheism is the intellectual and philosophical seed of the ideologies and policies that end in atrocity.  In contrast, I have shown how the Bible was a direct influence on the criticism of private property that formed the basis of most forms of communism, Marx’s and Engels’ included.  It is thus little surprise that the earliest communists were religious believers.  The famous Communist League, for example, was initially the League of the Just, a Christian communist organization.  The anti-atheist’s argument rests purely on the debunked notion that without a belief in God (by which they mean their god), moral depravity is the inevitable result.  What’s more, the argument isn’t even Biblical, since the Apostle Paul claims the moral law is written on every man’s heart (Romans 2:14-15), regardless of belief.

Michael thinks he’s got the killer argument when he writes,

And I note for at least the 3rd time that you STILL haven’t told me why Joseph Stalin – murderer of so many millions of people – was a ‘bad atheist’ for his acts.

Simple, Michael.  When you can tell me why you’re a bad (or good) a-unicornist, I’ll tell you why Stalin was a bad (or good) atheist.

8 thoughts on “The incoherency of the anti-atheists

  1. Personally, I think the rejection of Smoking Mirror and Quetzocoatl is responsible for the atorcities of the Inquisition. Why does Michael not address that issue-nonbelief in Aztec Gods as a source of depravity?

  2. Thanks Bryan for demonstrating the absolute absurdity of the argument!

    “(Insert deity x here) is the source of all morality. If you don’t believe in (deity x), then you have no morals.”

    “How can I verify this myself?”

    “You cannot since (deity x) is invisible, but he tells me my belief is true.”

    Pure gold!

  3. Hi Brian, I’ve been debating this topic quite a bit as well, and since I don’t have the background I’m not sure how true this is. I’ve heard that there is evidence that there were more religious people murdered than other groups, and theists try to claim this as evidence of atheism being the cause. I’ve tried to find figures on this but have come up empty. The most I’ve found is that according to one scholar, there was about 70% of peasants in the Gulag, and once the Great Terror began that number rose.

    I also recently finished reading Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism and it’s very good.

    I do have one other question, though. You say that you’ve never heard of any scholars who hold the opinion that atheism is the cause of communism, but one person (though he is a theist and biased I think) is David Aikman, who has a PhD in Russian history (I even went through and rebutted his book on my blog). I had read from a christian apologist that Donald Treadgold helped Aikman with his dissertation called “The Role of Atheism in the Marxist Tradition” and I ordered Treadgold’s book to see what he has to say on the subject. I previewed his book online and he notes how atheism is a part of Marx’s doctrine, though I didn’t read enough to see if he said it was an influence or not.

    How true is it that atheism played a role in Marxism? Of course, as I’ve argued, a negative cannot effect someone and just because his doctrine was godless, doesn’t mean he advocated the murder of religious people – a view I haven’t ever come across.

    The argument I’ve been using is the reason for the religious persecution was because of Marx’s doctrine, not atheism. It was the communists’ goal to force their doctrine on the country to make their socialist dream happen, and since religion wasn’t fading away as Marx had said, they decided to use force to make it happen, even though it wasn’t advocated by Marx.

    Would that be accurate?

    Edit: Since I was able to post my comment this time, I wanted to make sure it was alright that I posted your communism article on my blog. I of course linked to it and said you were the author. I wanted to double check that it was OK I posted it. I had tried to leave a comment a week or two ago and my comment never showed up so I’m not sure what happened.

  4. Hi AA, thanks for stopping by with some great food for thought and research. You addressed yourself to Brian, but perhaps you meant me? If that’s the case, here are some comments:

    I’ve heard that there is evidence that there were more religious people murdered than other groups, and theists try to claim this as evidence of atheism being the cause. I’ve tried to find figures on this but have come up empty. The most I’ve found is that according to one scholar, there was about 70% of peasants in the Gulag, and once the Great Terror began that number rose.

    I’ve not heard that specific claim myself, though theists really try hard to give the impression that believers were the only ones targeted. It’s simply not true. And even when they do give figures about the number of believers who were killed, they fail to substantiate whether religion was the cause for their persecution. Here are a couple of examples which demonstrate why that would be difficult to do.

    1) During the civil war which followed the Bolshevik Revolution, the Russian Orthodox Church sided largely with the White Army. Now, when Orthodox priests were killed, was it because they were considered an “enemy combatant,” or because the Bolsheviks were seeking to eliminate religion? I argue it was more of the former because of the varied patterns of persecution experienced by believers of all stripes.

    2) The Russian peasantry, as you’re probably aware, was always fairly religious, though that had begun to change in the latter years of the Russian monarchy. During the years of forced collectivization of their farms, many resisted and ended up in the Gulags, as you noted. But again, it’s difficult to claim that such peasants ended up there solely because of their belief. Some probably did, but other factors were clearly in play.

    I do have one other question, though. You say that you’ve never heard of any scholars who hold the opinion that atheism is the cause of communism, but one person (though he is a theist and biased I think) is David Aikman, who has a PhD in Russian history (I even went through and rebutted his book on my blog).

    Actually, my claim is more along the lines that no scholar of the communist experience upholds the notion that atheism plays any meaningful role in the 20th century’s atrocities. Now, however, you’ve introduced me to one, and I therefore must modify this claim, though I join you in noting his Christian bias and have to wonder whether he writes as a scholar or as a Christian apologist.

    I would really like to get my hands on his thesis that you mention, but in the meantime, I was able to read an excerpt from his book, The Delusion of Disbelief. It’s probably the most extensive case I’ve seen linking atheism and communist atrocities, but its main points are ones I’ve already rebutted in my main article. Like similar treatments, Dr. Aikman has to ignore a lot of history to build his case. This is very troubling because Aikman, as a Russian history expert, knows better. For example, he concentrates almost exclusively on the persecution of believers, ignoring the oppression of whole other swathes of society. He does this, because his case is partially built on the idea that atheism must entail anti-religiosity or even “dechristianization”. But as I showed in my article, this isn’t the case. Aikman even acknowledges that deists were anti-religious, citing the French Reign of Terror, of which the deist Robespierre was the chief author. If believers in a divine creator could be just as murderous as their atheist Marxist counterparts, it deals a heavy blow to the claim that it is the rejection of God that leads to moral depravity.

    Aikman makes other assertions which make me severely question whether he’s writing as a scholar. For example, he states (pg. 109),

    Lenin never wavered from an attitude of what seemed to be permanenet rage at God, or against any theistic ideas.

    Aikman is either strangely unaware of Lenin’s views, or he’s purposely misleading, for how could someone who possessed a “permanent rage at God, or against any theistic ideas” say something like,

    We must not only admit workers who preserve their belief in God into the Social-Democratic Party, but must deliberately set out to recruit them; we are absolutely opposed to giving the slightest offence to their religious convictions, but we recruit them in order to educate them in the spirit of our programme, and not in order to permit an active struggle against it.

    The Attitude of the Workers’ Party to Religion, V.I. Lenin, 1909.

    Aikman continues (pg. 113),

    Lenin would not let up on religion, even when it was quite obvious that religious opposition in no way posed any kind of threat to his regime. In an October 1921 editorial in Pravda, the Communist Party mouthpiece, he declared, “We have fought and are fighting religion in earnest.”

    It boggles the mind that an historian of Russia could make such a statement. It’s as if the fact of the Russian Orthodox Church’s support for the Bolsheviks’ bitter enemies during the civil war (1917-1921) is completely unknown to him. And no mention either of the Church’s role in supporting the corrupt and inept Tsarist monarchy for centuries.

    Aikman leaves little doubt that he’s writing as an apologist for theism (pg. 114):

    The Soviet experience thoroughly demonstrates that if God is eliminated from public life, a much worse deity inevitably is erected in his [sic] place.

    Goodness, the myopia. It’s as if Europe or Japan don’t exist in his mind.

    Lastly, it’s just bizarre that these purported theistic experts on Marxism never mention or acknowledge anything about its revilement of private property, which plays so central a role in communist ideology. Perhaps not so bizarre, considering the antipathy traces directly to the Bible.

    I’ll be sure to write Aikman, letting him know there appear to be some gaps in his education.

    How true is it that atheism played a role in Marxism? Of course, as I’ve argued, a negative cannot effect someone and just because his doctrine was godless, doesn’t mean he advocated the murder of religious people – a view I haven’t ever come across.

    Atheism is a part of Marx and Engels’ conception of communism, though communism is certainly not irrevocably linked to it. The question is to what extent is Marxism a natural product of atheism, and on that score there is no direct correspondence. Marx didn’t argue “Because there is no god, the bourgeoisie must inevitably oppress the working class.” The fact that you can completely divorce atheism from communism demonstrates how weak, or even non-existent, the link actually is. The reason for the atrocities was communist ideology itself, which was in essence a totalitarian system for the transformation of society. Such totalitarian ideologies have an internal logic of their own, which scholars such as Arendt masterfully identify.

    It was the communists’ goal to force their doctrine on the country to make their socialist dream happen, and since religion wasn’t fading away as Marx had said, they decided to use force to make it happen, even though it wasn’t advocated by Marx.

    I largely agree, but remember that Marxism-Leninism was never specifically about abolishing religion, but about creating a communist society. Religion, as a by-product of capitalism, was supposed to fade away, but it clearly had greater vigor than the communists realized, like many other bourgeoisie institutions. Consequently, these had to be forcefully abolished, which is why they instituted things like collectivization and forced industrialization.

    Edit: Since I was able to post my comment this time, I wanted to make sure it was alright that I posted your communism article on my blog. I of course linked to it and said you were the author. I wanted to double check that it was OK I posted it. I had tried to leave a comment a week or two ago and my comment never showed up so I’m not sure what happened.

    Ack! I’m very sorry for your troubles. You’re free to repost my article, in accordance with the Creative Commons licensing policy posted to the right.

  5. Hi Robert, I’m sorry about the name mix up. I was looking at the replies before I wrote my comment and I guess I saw the name Brian and wrote that instead.

    Thanks so much for the information. I just received Donald Treadgold’s book, Twentieth Century Russia, today and just started it, but read how the peasants were very religious (I wasn’t aware of that when I wrote you) so I was wondering about religion being the cause since I had found how 70% in the Gulags were peasants, but I attributed that to the attempts at controlling the working class and forcing them to work and then take their produce.

    “I’ll be sure to write Aikman, letting him know there appear to be some gaps in his education.”

    I’m curious what he’ll say, or if he will even respond. I wrote him after I finished my refutation of his book and asked if he’d like to discuss his book because I found many errors, and I never heard from him.

    “Atheism is a part of Marx and Engels’ conception of communism, though communism is certainly not irrevocably linked to it.”

    This reminds me of a quote I found of Marx’s once:

    “Communism begins where atheism begins, but atheism is at the outset still far from being communism; indeed it is still for the most part an abstraction.”

    Unless I misunderstand this quote it seems that’s what Marx himself is saying, that atheism isn’t much a part of his ideas.

    As I read more about communism it gets clearer and clearer to me how full of holes the theists’ argument is. And thanks for allowing me to post the article. I had seen the licensing policy and figured you wouldn’t mind so I have posted it already, but I wanted to ask you anyway just to be sure. Just didn’t feel right posting it without asking directly.

    I think the error with my post not showing up might have something to do with the OpenID feature. When I inserted my blog address the post didn’t show up. When I left it out the last time the comment was posted, but I’m not for sure. I have a lot of security on my computer (ad blocking software, cookie blocking, etc.) and that might have had something to do with it too.

    Thanks again for the excellent info.

    Take care.

  6. Hi Robert,

    As a biology graduate student involved in the Inteligent Design wars, I often encounter the religion/atheism body count argument. One thing that occured to me is, if atheism were truly the driving force behind the Soviet Union’s policies, then one would expect atheists to be given preferential treatment during the purges. Is there any evidence that atheist kulaks or other individuals fared better than theists?

  7. David,

    With regards to the kulaks (a term used to describe land-holding Russian farmers), it was simply the fact that they possessed property which made them automatic targets of the regime. Of course, the collectivization drive turned many of those theoretical opponents into real opponents. No distinction was made between atheist and theist kulaks, most likely because the number of the former was practically non-existent.

    But even if there had been a significant number of atheist kulaks, it’s highly unlikely the Soviets would have given them any consideration. After all, practically nothing preserved you from the possibility of hardship and terror, Leon Trotsky–one of Lenin’s closest associates–being perhaps the chief demonstration of that. An accusation of vrag naroda – an enemy of the people – was all that it took, and it didn’t matter who you were or what you believed.

  8. I am having trouble locating the source of your quote of Rudolph Rummel. Could you please cite the source of the quote.

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